Stiassny slates NZTA, predicts more exits

NZTA chairman Michael Stiassny has delivered a searing rebuke of the transport agency, saying he believes more resignations are likely following the departure this week of Chief Executive Fergus Gammie.

At the same time, Transport Minister Phil Twyford revealed he has been in discussions with the Ministry of Transport about “external scrutiny” of their own role as monitor of NZTA.

NZTA has been embroiled in scandal after it was revealed it had neglected its role as regulator, resulting in poor WoF checks being done on cars. In one case, a man died when his seatbelt failed in an accident shortly after his car passed its WoF.

Stiassny, who was appointed as chairman of the NZTA board early this year, said he was expecting more resignations, and also offered the first public estimate of the cost of the scandal, which he anticipated would cost less than $5 million.

He addressed concerns over the future of staffing of the organisation in the wake of Gammie’s departure.

“I would think it is more than likely that a number of people will decide to leave,” Stiassny said.

“There are a couple of reasons for that. One is you would expect the CEO has a team they work with, and if they are leaving there is always a period of time where there are more changes. And there will be some people who may not wish to be part of moving forward with the regulatory function and the way it will operate so hence they may leave,” he said.

The committee heard that Gammie’s leadership saw little change at the organisation, even when it was clear there was a problem with the way NZTA implemented its regulatory role.

“Mr Gammie was with us about two and a half years and it’s clear that he inherited and left it as it was,” Stiassny said.

But he pushed back against the suggestion he had forced Gammie to leave.

“Mr. Gammie came to a view on his own that he would like to go,” he said.

Stiassny had been asked to brief Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure select committee on the scandal so far.

He told the committee he had come across the problems when reading his briefing papers after being appointed to the role in April.

“I was supplied with papers to read, to get to know the business and among these papers were significant papers around regulatory compliance matters,” Stiassny said.

“It was pretty obvious that the regulatory system was in bad shape so as a director I’ve got responsibilities and accountabilities and as is my nature I persisted even when I was accused of over-reacting.”

The investigation culminated in media being summoned to Minister Twyford’s Beehive office in October where they were told potentially thousands of vehicles were on the roads with WoFs that were not up to scratch.

The scandal has grown each day since. On Thursday, NZTA identified a further 747 WoFs that would need to be rechecked, adding to the 1,316 identified on Tuesday. So far close to 20,000 WoFs have been affected. 

Questions remain over the Ministry of Transport’s role in review

Later in the day, the committee heard from the Ministry of Transport, who are tasked with the job of monitoring NZTA.

It told the committee that it was not aware of the issues at NZTA in great detail, although it had sensed there was a problem. The Ministry felt there was “a need for greater prioritisation and focus” but did not see “what appears to be a systemic failure internally”.

The Ministry also said that it could not be confident that it wouldn’t pick up cases like the NZTA scandal in future, as it is not the job of the Ministry to look at individual cases.

This could impact on the review the Ministry is currently conducting into the NZTA scandal.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford told reporters he had discussed external scrutiny of the Ministry's monitoring role. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Concerns have been raised that the Ministry is not the appropriate organisation to conduct the review, as the review could find that it itself was at fault for not calling attention to the NZTA scandal sooner.

The Ministry said the reviewers would be independent of the Ministry, although it is not yet clear whether this has satisfied critics.

Twyford told media that the Ministry of Transport’s role was not above question, and he had discussed external scrutiny of the Ministry.

“The Ministry of Transport are the statutory monitor for the agency and I think that it’s a fair question to ask about the discharge of that role over the last nine years, and I’ve been in conversation with the Ministry of Transport in recent days about some external scrutiny of their performance in their monitoring of NZTA.”

“I intend to make sure that there is some external scrutiny of that as part of the external review that I have commissioned of the Transport Agency,” he said.

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